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Everyday Legal Problems

Your Questions About Coronavirus and Legal Services

Answers to common questions about courts and legal services arising from the coronavirus pandemic.

My child support case is supposed to be heard in Provincial Court very soon. But with so many things closing down to fight the spread of the virus, I don’t know if my hearing is still going to happen. Will it be postponed?"

– Rae, Coquitlam

Can I get in legal trouble if I don’t practice “social distancing?”

The guidance from authorities to stay close to home and to keep two metres apart from others is strong advice, not the law.

Some of the social distancing rules do have the force of law, however.

The province’s public health orders are examples. These include an order prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people, and an order requiring restaurants and pubs to take measures to physically distance groups of patrons. The latter order spells out how establishments must keep two metres between groups of patrons and get contact information for one member of every group (among other measures).

So far, in guidance to its bylaw officers, the province is focusing their efforts on monitoring and education. The officers (and police) are not empowered to fine or detain people in enforcing these orders. Vancouver’s bylaw officers are similarly focused on monitoring and educating to date. 

One rule has more severe penalties if you don’t follow it. If you’ve just returned to Canada from abroad, you must isolate or quarantine, depending on if you have symptoms. (The federal government website explains the difference.) You can be fined or jailed for failing to follow this order.

Is the courthouse open? If I have a case coming up, will it be postponed?

Courts in BC have been resuming operations gradually. For Provincial Court matters, please consult their notice. Notices have also been issued by the Supreme Court and Appeals Court.

The Civil Resolution Tribunal continues to operate normally, though it is extending some timelines. This online tribunal handles small claims matters up to $5,000 and certain other types of disputes.

What if I’m running out of time to file a claim?

The province has issued an order suspending all limitation periods and time periods for starting a claim or bringing an appeal in a civil or family court matter. (There's an exception for builders' liens claims.) The suspension continues until the state of emergency regarding the coronavirus ends.

For matters before tribunals (as distinct from courts), each tribunal can decide whether to suspend time periods. Check with the tribunal that is in play for your situation.

Are law offices open for business?

The provincial government designated legal services and the work of lawyers, notaries, and paralegals to be essential services. Their offices can remain open, but they must follow the orders and guidance of the provincial health authorities. Like other workplaces, they must post a COVID-19 safety plan.

What about legal aid?

Legal Aid BC continues to provide legal aid services, but by phone only. If you live in a community where there is a local agent, call the agent's office to apply for legal aid. Legal Aid BC’s online services remain open, such as the LiveHelp chat service on their Family Law website.

Can I still access low-cost or free legal services?

Yes, but they are adapting their services at this time. Access Pro Bono is ramping up their telephone advice service. CLAS continues to provide assistance to eligible clients, but the logistics have changed. PovNet is tracking service changes for advocates province-wide

Some providers have launched new services to respond to the crisis. For example, Mediate BC is offering a "low-bono" online mediation program that helps people resolve conflicts that stem from the pandemic.

Is the land registry open for business?

At BC’s land title authority, front counter services are closed. But you can still register property sales and other title interests through their online services.

Your Questions About Coronavirus and Business

Answers to common business questions arising from the coronavirus pandemic.

I run a small print shop over in East Vancouver. I’ve had to lay off a few employees. I’m still open, but just barely keeping the lights on. One of my biggest clients owes me a bunch of money, but now says they won’t pay me this month."

– Sydney, Vancouver

I’ve heard there’s government help available for small business owners?

The federal government has put in measures to help businesses. There are interest-free emergency loans available, up to $40,000 (apply through your primary financial institution). One of the requirements is that a business must have paid out at least $20,000 in 2019 to its employees. The government has committed to expanding this criteria to new businesses, sole proprietors and companies that only have contractors (and not employees) — keep this page in mind when reviewing the evolving eligibility criteria.

There are also tax deferrals (more time to pay income tax and sales tax owing). Check out the deadline dates here.

And there’s a 75% wage subsidy for small businesses, for up to 24 weeks, retroactive to March 15. Meaning: the government will pay the business 75% of their workers’ wages (up to certain maximums). The intent is to help businesses to keep workers (or re-hire ones that have been laid off) during the crisis.

I’m a small business owner that has had to close. Can my landlord still make me pay rent?

First, consult your lease, and see if there’s any clause that you can point out that can relieve you of the obligation to pay rent during the pandemic. No matter what, try to keep communication lines open. Your landlord is no doubt aware of the situation. Perhaps you can defer the rent payment, or agree to just pay a part of it for a few months. You can also remind them about the government’s Canada emergency commercial rent assistance program, which provides forgivable loans to landlords who agree to reduce their tenant’s rent. Commercial landlords can apply for this program as of May 25.

If you have insurance, call your broker. It may be that you’re covered for business interruption insurance and can make a claim for compensation at this time.

As well, the Business Development Bank of Canada has financing programs for entrepreneurs impacted by the pandemic. There are interest-free emergency loans available (up to $40,000), and loans to help small- and medium-sized businesses with cash flow.

I’m a small business owner. A client has refused to pay me, using coronavirus as their reason. Can they do this?

This can depend. If you have a written contract with this client, check to see if there is a “force majeure” clause. Often called an “Act of God” clause, it may let people get out of their contractual duties because of an unforseen event beyond their control. But it’s not for certain. It often requires a reasonable level of effort by both parties to mitigate their situation. 

This is a tough time for everyone. Best to communicate openly, either orally or in writing, to try to reach a compromise

Your Questions About Coronavirus and Consumer Issues

Answers to common consumer questions arising from the coronavirus pandemic.

“I got a call from the 'Canada Health Authority' telling me I tested positive for COVID-19. They followed up with a text message saying I was eligible for government benefits. They asked for my social insurance number and personal health number, to 'confirm my identity', as well as my credit card, to process my benefit payments. It sounded so official, but it must have been a scam. I've never been tested for COVID-19."

– Jasper, Golden

I’ve heard there are scams related to COVID-19. Is this true?

Sadly, yes. Fraudsters seek to profit from consumers' fears and uncertainties, and the spread of misinformation. Be alert. Especially for scams related to the new benefit programs announced by the government: be extra suspicious if a text message asks you for your personal information.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has a list of COVID-19 related scams to watch out for.

I’ve noticed people are selling things like toilet paper and hand sanitizer online at crazy prices. Is this legal?

It’s sad to see that many of these “profiteers” try to re-sell these goods, either in person or online. But government and the business community are taking action. Several prominent retailers are refusing to allow this to happen. Some municipalities have levied fines. And BC authorities can now ticket people and businesses up to $2,000 for reselling essential goods and supplies and price gouging.

If you see it happening, you can complain online to Consumer Protection BC. This office is the main point of contact in the province for complaints about price gouging and reselling of essential goods and supplies.

I was supposed to take a flight this spring/summer, but may have to cancel or postpone. What are my rights?

Both WestJet and Air Canada have introduced flexible cancellation or rebooking policies at this time. They are waiving change fees or providing credit for future travel if you’d like to cancel. Best to try to accomplish as much as you can online — their call centers are likely overwhelmed. Although, if they have pleasant hold music, that can help pass the time in self-isolation.

What’s the situation with travel restrictions?

Canada has an official global travel advisory in effect: Avoid non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice. And avoid all travel on cruise ships.

Canadians and permanent residents returning to Canada from abroad must isolate or quarantine for 14 days, depending on if they have symptoms. (The federal government website explains the difference between isolating and quarantine.)

As of March 30, domestic travel is restricted for people with COVID-19 symptoms. Anyone showing signs of the virus can’t travel by air or by rail between provinces and cities anywhere in Canada.

All foreign nationals are prohibited from entering Canada for non-essential travel. As of May 22, the restriction on all non-essential travel at the Canada-US border has been extended until June 21, 2020.

If I can’t sign a contract in person, what are my options?

There are online services available, like DocuSign or HelloSign, that make online signing easy and efficient. It may be best to ask a lawyer or notary public for specific advice here, since some documents have very particular requirements for in-person signatures or witnessing.

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